Who should be the next President of the European Commission? In the run-up to the 2019 European elections, we’ll be profiling the various Spitzenkandidaten (“lead candidates”) for the job. Next up is the candidate for the Party of European Socialists (PES), Frans Timmermans, First Vice-President of the European Commission.
Frans Timmermans was born on 6 May 1961, in Maastricht in the south of the Netherlands (making him Maastricht’s second-most-famous son, after the indomitable André Rieu). His grandfathers were both coal miners, but his father worked as a diplomat and, when he was 11, his family moved to Italy, where Timmermans attended an English-language school.
Timmermans graduated from universities in Nijmegen, the Netherlands, and Nancy, France, with degrees in French literature, European law, and history. An accomplished polyglot, Timmermans is reported to speak seven languages fluently: Limburgish, Dutch, English, French, German, Italian, and Russian. After a year conscripted into the Dutch army following graduation, he joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as a civil servant, with a particular focus on European integration.
He was first elected to the Dutch House of Representatives in 1998, for the Labour Party. He has been elected six times as a national MP and from 2007 to 2010 was Dutch Minister of European Affairs and, from 2012 to 2014, Minister for Foreign Affairs. In 2014, Timmermans joined the European Commission under Jean-Claude Juncker as First Vice President.
As First Vice President, Timmermans’ portfolio has meant working on some of the most contentious issues facing the Commission, including the migration crisis and rule of law dispute with Poland. He helped conclude the EU-Turkey refugee agreement, widely seen as having eased the migration crisis (though the deal has been criticised by human rights organisations).
Frans Timmermans has a reputation for being fiercely intelligent, competent, and a skilled orator. However, some argue the shine of “Timmermania” that greeted his appointment as First Vice President has worn off. In his defence, he was given the task of dealing with some of the most difficult issues facing the Commission. Yet, while critics generally agree he can deploy impressive rhetoric, some see him as adopting the “pomposity” of a lifelong civil servant and politician, and argue there’s no way reality can meet sky-high expectations.